Taking Stock of Baby Names: A novel approach

Taking Stock of Baby Names: A novel approach

By Nick Turner

Investors often rely on charts and technical analysis to decide whether to buy or sell a stock. That means they focus less on the fundamental qualities of the company (say, whether sales are growing or it has a good CEO), and instead concentrate on the movements of its share price. If the chart is displaying a certain pattern — one that has been historically shown to foreshadow a rise in value — the investor will buy the stock.

Having spent my career deciphering stock charts as a financial journalist, I suppose it seemed natural to apply the same techniques when coming up with baby names. After all, the popularity of names tends to move in hundred-year cycles, and the same patterns repeat over and over again. That means you can spot a good name based on its chart alone.

Before I tell you what to look for in a chart, you should know that this system doesn’t work for everyone. It assumes you want a classic name that’s been around the block a few times. It also assumes you don’t want something insanely popular, but aren’t interested in a name that history has left by the wayside altogether (Gertrude, Mildred).

I’ve created my charts here by uploading Social Security Administration data into Excel and generating line graphs. But there are a number of online sources that will chart baby names automatically. In any case, your chart should show the changes in popularity of a name between 1880 and 2012 (the most recent year available).

So how do you know when you’ve got a good name on your hands?  You want a name that peaked at least 100 years ago, so the left-hand side of the chart will be elevated. The line should gradually decline over the course of the 20th century, reaching a nadir some time in the past few decades.

But — this part is key — it has to show an uptick in the past five or 10 years. You want to be sure this is a true “century name” (one that’s poised for a glorious return), not a dead relic (Bertha).

You may be concerned about picking a name that’s rebounding a little too fast. Emma, after all, was once a century name. Now it ranks higher than it did during its former heyday of the 1880s.

But personally, I think you’re always better off picking a name that’s rising in popularity. Also, think twice about giving your kid a name that peaked 15 years ago (Lauren or Nicholas). When that child is 25 or 30, you don’t want him or her to be saddled with the name of a middle-aged person. (It’s the opposite for me: As a Nicholas who was born in the 1970s, I benefit from having the name of a much younger man.)

But let’s get back to the charts. Based on what we’ve discussed, the perfect pattern is a long hump, then a dip, followed by a curve upwards. In other words, it looks like an elephant.

Here are a few names with good elephant-style charts, even if a few of them stretch the parameters. (Eleanor, for instance, peaked less than 100 years ago.)


If you see a chart that looks like this, chances are you have a decent name on your hands. Both my daughters have near-perfect charts, and we’ve been quite happy with their names. (My son doesn’t have a century-name pattern, though he’s somehow managed to muddle through life.)

At some point, you have to put any name through its paces. Does it fit with your surname? Could you imagine yourself screaming it across a playground? Technical analysis can’t really help with that.

But picking something with a strong chart — whether it’s a name or a stock — is often a wise bet.

Nick Turner is a writer and editor living in New York City.  He and his wife have successfully named three kids. Follow him on Twitter at @SFNick.

About the Author

Nick Turner

Nick Turner

Nick Turner is a writer and editor living in New York City (by way of San Francisco). He and his wife have successfully named three kids. Follow him on Twitter at @SFNick.